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Understanding research methodology

It is important to define what we mean by the term ‘methodology’. We introduce you to some examples of different research methodologies and explain and how it differs from ‘research methods’.

The term ‘methodology’ has been defined by researchers as:

‘…a system of methods and rules to facilitate the collection and analysis of data. It provides the starting point for choosing an approach made up of theories, ideas, concepts and definitions of the topic; therefore providing the basis of a critical activity consisting of making choices about the nature and character of the social world’ (Hart 2008: 28).

These systems are regarded as the worldview or the philosophical underpinning of a piece of research, also referred to as the research methodology.

Some research methodologies

Research in various disciplines can be generally situated in an intellectual or philosophical tradition such as positivism, interpretivism or constructivism and pragmatism (Punch 2013).

Let’s look at some examples of these systems or philosophies and see how they connect to the research approaches adopted.

Positivism is a philosophical ideology that adheres to the ‘factual’ knowledge gained through measurements and observation. It promotes the idea that:

‘Scientific knowledge is derived from the accumulation of data obtained theory-free and value-free from observation. This suggests that anything that cannot be observed and thus in some way measured (that is quantified), is of little or no importance’ (Swann and Pratt 2004: 208).

Interpretivism and constructivism are related philosophical ideologies that promote the idea that people are deliberate and creative in their actions and actively construct their social world.

This approach considers the dynamic and changing nature of the society and understands that there could be multiple interpretations of an event, shaped by the individual’s historical or social perspective. Such situations need to be examined through the eyes of participants rather than the researcher (Cohen, Manion and Morrison 2011).

Pragmatism is a methodology that concentrates on practical rather than idealistic principles. For the pragmatist, there may be various or multiple ways of arriving at the reality. This can be through subjective or objective means, sometimes requiring a combination of subjective and objective techniques (Onwuegbuzie, Johnson and Collins 2009).

‘Methodology’ or ‘research methods’?

The terms methodology and research methods are often used interchangeably, but this is incorrect. Research methods are the techniques of research that involve the application of methodology (we will cover research methods in greater detail in Week 2).

Research methods answer the how questions of data collection and analysis. The methodology, however, addresses the more holistic question of why such research methods are valid tools to address the research question investigated.

Your task

Research in construction traditionally takes a positivist philosophy.

Can you think of advantages of other approaches, especially given the contemporary issues we have discussed?

What else can you find out about the methodologies discussed in this article?


Cohen, L., Manion, L., and Morrison, K. (2011) Research Methods in Education. London: Routledge

Hart, C. (1998) Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination. London: Sage Publications

Onwuegbuzie, A. J., Johnson, R. B., and Collins, K. M. (2009) ‘Call for Mixed Analysis: A Philosophical Framework for Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches’. International journal of multiple research approaches 3 (2), 114-139

Punch, K. F. (2013) Introduction to Social Research: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches. London: Sage Publications

Swann, J. and Pratt, J (2004) Educational Research in Practice: Making Sense of Methodology. London: Continuum

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This article is from the free online course:

Global Issues in the Construction Industry

Coventry University